THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
If you try to brainstorm a list of jobs that involve people always yelling at you (or are at least always displeased with your service), it seems natural to think of jobs like customer service, lost baggage counter operator at the airport, or husband (see what I did there?).
Another job on that list is sports official. And on Friday night, I had another run in with coaches and fans that made me wonder why I do it.
Consider the following scenarios. I'm working the bases in a two-man umpiring system for a Cal Ripken State Tournament game for 11-year-olds. I'm working with an umpire with whom I have never worked before. This gentleman (who we'll refer to as "Frank") was very nice; he was probably in his late 40's or early 50's. Frank was stationed behind the plate.
There are runners on first and second with nobody out. I'm in the "C" position, which means I'm on the third base side of second base, approximately half way between the dirt circle of the pitcher's mound and the infield dirt. The batter hits a screaming line drive that goes down the third base line and hits about ten to fifteen feet past the base on the grass; when it hits, a cloud of white chalk jumps into the air from the foul line. I turn to watch the ball for a split second, then turn to watch my coverage of first and second base as I take the runner on first base and the batter-runner around the bases. At that point, I hear Frank yell something.
Now, I don't know exactly what it was that he yelled. I started with an F, and it was not very emphatic, but it was loud enough for me (and the players) to hear. Keep this in mind, too: when an umpire is determining if a ball is fair or foul, the proper mechanic is to only vocalize the call of "foul," not to declare the ball fair. If the ball is foul, the umpire is to yell, "Foul!" and signal with his hands that it is a foul ball, either by putting both hands in the air (like he's being robbed) or by pointing to foul territory. If the ball is fair, the umpire is to say nothing, but instead to just point toward fair territory.
My instinct kicks in to tell me that what Frank verbalized was a declaration of the ball being foul. But when I turned around to see him, he was pointing toward fair territory and standing there as if he was letting the play continue. The runners kept running, but the defense was confused and stunned. The ball, thankfully, continued on the ground down the third base line and into dead-ball territory, which is where it probably would have ended up regardless. As I turn back around to look at the runners, the two runners on base have now scored and the batter-runner is stopping at third base. The left fielder ran into dead-ball territory to retrieve the ball and throw it in.
In an instant, the coaches for both teams are going crazy. The defensive coaches are yelling at Frank, saying he called it foul even though he pointed fair, so it should be foul. The offensive coaches are yelling back, saying the ball kicked up chalk, proving it landed on the line, which means it is a fair ball. Frank, immediately knowing he screwed up, called time out and came to talk to me.
"I screwed up," he said. "I called it foul, but I pointed fair. The ball ended up in dead-ball territory, though. I'm going to declare it a ground-rule double. The runner who was on second base will score; the runner who was on first base will go back to third; and the batter-runner will go back to second."
Covering my mouth with my hand and maintaining my composure, I softly said, "Okay."
Frank made his call. The team to bat didn't have a problem with it. The team in the field was still livid that a run scored.
This was in the first inning.
Fast forward to the sixth and final inning. The team who had been upset about that call had just taken the lead in the bottom of the fifth. As they came out to play defense in the top of the sixth, they only needed three outs to win. They led by one run.
In a matter of about four pitches, the first two batters both hit home runs. Now they were losing by a run.
We went to the bottom of the sixth with that team still losing by a run.
With one out and nobody on base, I was stationed in the "A" position, which means I was in foul territory down the first base line, approximately 10 feet behind first base. The batter hits a soft line drive towards the shortstop, who races in, dives, and makes a shoestring catch. I rotate into fair territory, anticipating that the shortstop may have dropped it and could be throwing to first base to try to get the out. Frank, however, comes up from his crouch behind the catcher with a clenched first in the air. He's got a catch all the way. The batter is out.
The runner keeps running to first, though. The shortstop, unsure if he caught it or not, throws the ball to first. The runner beats the throw. But before I make a call, I see Frank still in his posture calling the out. All I do is point to him to show he has the call.
Those same coaches who were livid in the first inning are now looking to pop blood vessels. They come running out of the dugout. Screaming at Frank, they ask him to appeal to me. Frank and I conference again. "I have a catch," said Frank. "Did you have anything different?"
"I took a peek when I could," I said. "I never saw the ball on the ground. I have no information to give you to potentially change this call."
"So the call is going to stand," said Frank.
"Yes," I said.
"You know they're going to be pissed," he said.
"That's why I'm going to have another beer tonight," I replied. Frank smiles and chuckled a little, then turned around.
"The call is out."
You would have thought that behavior that followed would be outlawed around children. Not only were the coaches screaming, but so were the parents and fans. Not only were they screaming at Frank, but they were screaming at me. I started to hear things that were very close to being personally insulting, such as, "You're taking away this opportunity from the children! They're suffering because of your mistake!"
One of the assistant coaches continued to yell at me from the dugout. I put up my hand and kept saying, "Okay, coach. Relax. Enough." I was considering ejecting him, but I knew he was probably still upset at the first call. I gave everyone a long leash.
The next batter hit a hard ground ball back to the pitcher, who turned and threw to first. Game over.
I jogged five feet to the exit and waited for Frank to get to me before I left. Umpires always leave together. Frank, however, was staying around the home plate area for some reason. The players and coaches came out to shake hands, and the tirade continued to rain down on us from the coaches and parents. Frank continued to delay for a reason unknown to me. The assistant coach who was yelling at me from the dugout came out and was getting in line to shake hands when he turned and looked right at me. "You suck!" he yelled at me.
With a turn and a waive of my extended pointer finger, I levied my punishment. "You're gone, coach!" I had ejected him from the game after it had ended. He thought it was a joke since the game was over. Frank noticed this and finally came running up to me.
"Who'd you eject?"
"Him," as I pointed to the coach and read his name and number off the back of his jersey.
"Okay," said Frank. He ran over to the scorer's table and reported the ejection. He then ran back just as the team and the coaches were walking by us again. "Coach," Frank said, "not only are you ejected from this game, but you are suspended for the next game as well." All ejections in Cal Ripken tournaments come with an additional one-game suspension in addition to being disqualified from the contest at hand.
"That's great," he yelled sarcastically. "Great job tonight!"
Frank and I finally walked through the exit and towards the snack bar to collect our pay. What we heard on that walk was even worse than what I had heard up to that point.
"You lost this game for us tonight, blue! You should be ashamed of yourself! You ruined it for the kids! You don't deserve to umpire! You're too old to umpire! I hope to God you both never umpire a game again in your lives!"
I took a little solace in the fact that I just didn't care at that point. My adrenaline had never rushed that night, and I knew why. Before that game, Frank and I had officiated another game. I was behind the plate and he was on the bases. It was 90 degrees and humid; six innings took two and a half hours to play. I was dead tired and was lucky I could walk.
After getting paid, I jogged to my car (which was right behind the field and in plain sight of these absurd fans), got in without changing, and drove away. I pulled over near a fire station about a mile away to get out, get my phone and wallet from my trunk, and then drive home, where I would change, put my gear away, and enjoy not being in an area where threats were only a matter of time.
After a shower, I went out for a burger and a drink. The beer menu didn't have anything enticing, so I decided something harder was in order: one medium-dry vodka martini with a lemon peel...and, of course, it was shaken...not stirred.
I don't know when I actually started to have the chance to reflect on the events of the night. Maybe it was just before bed, when I prayed for all of the adults who acted so inappropriately toward me. But it spawned a question that we've been asking for a long time: why do people act like this?
What do the adults hope to gain out of this behavior? Is it a competitive advantage for their children? Do they think that the loss of the children on the other team will be the gain for their children? Will that make it easier to parent their children if they are satisfied by some sort of victory? Are the parents living vicariously through these children, thereby thinking the victory is theirs and not that of the kids?
What kind of an example do these parents think they are setting for the kids? Are they showing them that clawing and fighting through anything that might be remotely unfair will prove that you were right and will not stand for such an injustice on a playing field? Are they demonstrating that awful behavior might get them what they want? Are they showing that the feelings of those who you think might have wronged you do not matter, as if they are somehow less of a human?
Those questions may not be easy to answer. (Or, maybe the answer to all of them is a resounding "yes.") But instead of dwelling on them, let's try to answer this question:
Do people actually think that sports officials put on the uniform and get on the field for the arguments and to purposely wrong teams? Do people think we, as officials, enjoy the yelling and the screaming and the derogatory comments that show how we are unfit humans who shouldn't be around children?
Every answer to each of these questions spawns a debate, each of which has exceptions to rules and complicated answers. If we were omniscient, perhaps we could dissect the psychology of each individual adult who yelled something and try to understand why he or she felt the need to remind umpires they don't belong with the cleansed folk. But we don't have those luxuries.
I suppose the point is that youth athletics rarely observes the golden rule, especially when referring to the adults who coach or cheer. Would any of them like it if I yelled back at them in the same manner? Or would they just yell louder until they decided to resort to violence? Do they yell because they know we can't yell back? I could only imagine if I did yell back. A part of me was dying to turn to them and flip them off, but then I knew I wouldn't be officiating there again...not that it would be that big of a loss if that was the behavior I faced each time.
We hear a lot of stories about sportsmanship when it comes to just the players, their parents, and the coaches. What we don't hear about is the abuse that officials have to withstand. It's as if the teachers of good sportsmanship are preaching that we need to treat others as we would wish to be treated, but treat the officials like garbage since they never make the right call.
Instead of putting blame on officials, maybe parents and coaches should use these teachable moments to explain to kids that life simply isn't fair sometimes. Bad things are going to happen to good people, and we have no control over that. The only thing we can control is how we react to those things. If we put things in perspective, we start to see that bad breaks await us around every turn, not just in sports. A call that doesn't go in your favor during a game is nothing compared to a loved one developing cancer, for example.
I heard it said best on a New York Yankees broadcast last weekend while the Yanks were in Cleveland. Former MLB player Ken Singleton was doing play-by-play on the YES Network immediately after one of the recent shootings or violent terrorist attacks that we are facing on an almost constant basis. As Ken expressed his condolences for everyone who was suffering, he said, "This is a game...we're watching people play a game...a little perspective goes a long way." He couldn't be more right. Baseball is a game. Life is...well...life.
In the interest of putting a bow on the 2016 Major League Baseball season and ushering in the Hot Stove, I thought it would be fun to look back and examine what I believe to be the top ten headlines from 2016 regular season.
Please note that these headlines do not include the postseason. We've already talked about that so much that overlooking it for now is a welcome escape!
10. New Duds In The Desert
The Arizona Diamondbacks unveiled a total of eight new uniforms for the 2016 campaign. They simply were not satisfied with the massive changes they've implemented so many times in their 20 year history that a the equivalent of a shopping spree was necessary to make them feel better. Unfortunately, they walked into the department store in line with reality and walked out with look of Derek Zoolander...and even that's being kind.
It wasn't enough to revamp their font. Their pants looked like they were paying homage to Curt Schilling's bloody sock. Their road gray uniforms looked like they were from the future. They abandoned one of the most clever logos in baseball since the old Milwaukee Brewers "MB" baseball glove. (If you don't know what I'm referencing, go find their old logo. It's a lowercase "d" and b" back to back to form a snake. It's genius.)
They actually had a schedule to dictate which of their 8 uniforms would be worn when, especially since the number of permutations was quite large when you consider the fact that two of their five alternate tops could be worn either home or away, not to mention some of their hats were also interchangeable. Thankfully, it ended up working in the end: they crashed and burned as one of the worst teams in baseball and got their manager and general manager fired.
9. How To Hit The Deck
Chase Utley's slide into Ruben Tejada during the 2015 playoffs mandated a new "bona fide slide" rule to help ensure the safety of players. The days of the ridiculous slide to break up a double play were gone, but the trade off was that the "neighborhood" play was now subject to review.
Overall, this was a change baseball had to make. Lower levels of competitive baseball had already adapted to this, leaving only MLB in the dust. The ironic part is that the baseball rule book already has a rule about the legality of a slide to try to break up a double play: it ain't legal! But like a few of the rules in baseball, everybody looked the other way.
The funny part was that the one team that seemed to not change fast enough was everybody's favorite enemy, the Toronto Blue Jays (more on them in a second). Within the first series of the year in Tampa, they lost a game because Jose Bautista failed to slide properly into second base.
8. The Fight
I don't even have to tell you which fight. You already know which one.
If you don't, I'll humor you. The Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays got into a fracas in their last meeting of the calendar year (which was in May, ironically) when Matt Bush drilled Jose Bautista with a pitch, seemingly as retaliation for the bat flip he had during the 2015 postseason. Bautista then went so hard into second base on the ensuing double play (where have I read this before?) that the fight between him and Rougned Odor commenced almost immediately. This fight spawned one of the best stills in baseball photography when Odor landed one of the strongest punches thrown in baseball to Bautista's face.
I'm not going to sit here and endorse fighting, and I have gone on record as denouncing both teams for their behavior. However, I will say that punch was epic.
7. The Slowest Trot Ever
Gary Cohen would probably ask me to rank this at the top of the list since he called it one of the best moments in baseball history during his call. But unfortunately, Bartolo Colon's first career home run only ranks at number seven.
As old and fat as Colon is, this proves that anyone can hit a home run with just the right contact. Colon hooked it down the left field line, then sauntered around the bases, leaving everyone in shock of what they just saw. In fact, his trot was so slow that it gave the members of the Mets enough time to clear the dugout to give him the old fashioned silent treatment upon his return.
Actually, that trot may still be going on right now...
6. 3B to 3K
Is there anything we shouldn't laud Ichiro Suzuki for? Maybe the fact that his hair is turning gray? Well, he probably doesn't care, namely because he got his 3,000th hit this year, becoming the second player to accomplish the feat with a triple.
Ichiro reached the milestone while the Marlins were in Colorado. But the fans there were smart enough to know what was going on. A man who could have gone to high school with Bartolo Colon (if they grew up in the same country) reached a plateau that only the greats have reached. And this is after accumulating a few hits in Japan, too.
5. The South Side Soap Opera
The Chicago White Sox became a running punch line this year. "Why did the chicken cross the road? The Chicago White Sox." It works. Trust me.
It started in spring training with Adam LaRoche announcing his retirement from baseball because the team was not going to allow his son Drake to be around anymore. It escalated when Chris Sale took scissors to the throwback uniforms the team was planning on wearing during one of his starts. It ended with the departure of manager Robin Ventura.
Every team has ups and downs during the course of a season. But this? Can you make this stuff up?
4. Liquidation In The Bronx: Everything Must Go
For the first time in over two decades, the New York Yankees decided they were sellers at the trade deadline. But what was hilarious was that doing so actually put them right back in contention!
New York traded off Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, and Ivan Nova and received a bounty of prospects (and Adam Warren) that caused most front office personnel throughout baseball to have to pick their jaws up off the floor. They also jettisoned Alex Rodriguez (albeit it awkwardly) and decided to bring up some of their kids. The impact of Gary Sanchez (as well as Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge) actually put the Yanks in the race until Dellin Betances blew a save and a game on a Thursday in September in Boston.
Many have asked the proverbial question then, "If the Yankees had kept one of either Chapman, Miller, or Beltran, would they have made the playoffs?"
Out of all the players they dumped, Chapman now has a World Series ring. (So does Adam Warren.)
3. Is This A New Dynasty?
Forget the fact that the Cubs won the World Series. In fact, forget it because they should not have won the World Series. Despite the fact that Joe Maddon gets to earn his living in the craziest of ways and sometimes putting his team in a position to fail, the Cubs had the best record in baseball, breaking the 100-win barrier and riding into the sunset.
Las Vegas had the Cubs as the favorite to win the whole thing anyway prior to the season starting. But the emergence of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant proved to be enough to carry these lovable losers to the promised land. Kyle Hendricks may have even earned himself the NL Cy Young based on how well he did. That's right, Kyle Hendricks did better than Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta.
Everyone else just sucked, apparently.
2. Tragedy in Miami
There's no joking when it comes to the loss of Jose Fernandez just one week before the season was over. Further, there really are no words to properly portray the emotion and experiences of those who suffered through this and continue to grieve. One of the most talented pitchers in the game lost his life in a boating accident, and it affected everyone in baseball and beyond.
He left behind a pregnant girlfriend, which may have been a potential cause of the stress that made him take a ride on the boat in the first place. Although we will never know who was piloting the boat at the time of the crash, we now unfortunately know that there was both alcohol and cocaine in Fernandez's system at the time of his death.
1. A Very Pleasant Good Evening To You, Wherever You May Be
The legend of Vin Scully finally retired this year. It's a shame that it wasn't until this year that he became the face of baseball, but that's what he was...for a long time.
I might argue that Vin Scully has been the face of baseball for only a few years, namely because it seems like Derek Jeter held that title for 20 years. And before Jeter, although Scully had been around for decades prior, he was an assumed presence. Nobody thought about life without Vin Scully until they knew it was a real possibility. And as time went on in the beginning of the 21st century, that reality crept closer and closer.
There wasn't a person in baseball who didn't love Vin Scully. Every player...every broadcaster...even every umpire adored him. He was humble and humorous, friendly and comforting, informative and artistic. He was a brilliant master that will never be duplicated. And he went out the right way at home: with the Dodgers winning the division.
The best part about Vin? The fact that if he were to read this, he would rather I discuss the retirement of other broadcasters in the game, such as Dick Enberg and Bill Brown. They were all legends.
Other Notable Retirements: David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder, David Ross.
And a final nod to three retiring umpires: Tim Welke, Bob Davidson, and John Hirschbeck. Thanks for all you brought to the game.
On September 29th, at what will likely be his last game at Yankee Stadium, the New York Yankees announced they will honor David Ortiz with a pregame ceremony, following in the footsteps of what every other team has done this year when Ortiz visited for the final time.
But the Yankees fans are not too thrilled about it.
Let's start with a history lesson. In recent history, many players have announced their retirement prior to their final season. This has been a way to quell rumors as players get older and reach the end of their contracts. Fans and media alike would typically start to wonder if another deal would get done, and those questions would be asked of the aging stars constantly, especially during times of extreme success or failure. Rather than face those questions constantly, star players simply came out and said this would be it, setting off a farewell tour for the final year of their careers that actually created more issues than it should, whereby managers would have to determine whether or not to play the aging superstar or rest him, depending on what was best for the team. Joe Girardi frequently went on record as saying his job was to manage a baseball team to the postseason, not manage a farewell tour.
Although a player like Chipper Jones should be remembered as one of the first to do this, he gets overshadowed by the back-to-back retirement tours of Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. In 2013 and 2014 respectively, these two went from city to city and received the warmest of ovations, even from hated rivals such as the Boston Red Sox or the New York Mets. They were showered with gifts and love. Members of the opposing teams would gush with respect for their godly opponents who will, without a doubt, be first ballot Hall of Famers (if not unanimous).
So then why isn't the favor being returned by the Yankees fans to David Ortiz? Rumors are swirling about a campaign to moon Ortiz at his final game, let alone not give him a standing ovation or reception similar to what the Red Sox faithful gave both Rivera and Jeter. What makes this different?
Simple: Ortiz cheated.
Lest we forget, David Ortiz was implicated for failing a drug test for PEDs before it was illegal in baseball. Ortiz denied it up and down, but no player who was even suggested to have done this in an official report was given any sort of honor until the writers stupidly awarded Ortiz the World Series MVP in 2013, thereby breaking the first seal of allowing those with voting privileges to bestow honors upon reasonably suspected cheaters. Yes, we believe you are innocent until proven guilty in this country, and that's why Ortiz has never been convicted of such a crime or faced a punishment. But the court of public opinion has a right to speak as well.
Now, let's clarify one thing. Ortiz has every right to play baseball and help the Red Sox win, just like Alex Rodriguez did while he was in the middle of his various controversies. This has nothing to do with on-field rights. This is only concerning the realm of honor that consists of how the media and fans view and judge a player overall, not whether or not he should be allowed to play. When A-Rod was facing his various issues in 2013 and came back with just a portion of the season left, fans were up in arms that a cheater was allowed to play. But that's how the judicial process works. And by those standards, David Ortiz has every right to continue to play and bring championships to Boston. The issue is with the honors of World Series MVP and the grand tour of his final season, garnering applause and love from people who seem to forget his past.
Consider this as well. In the most simple of terms, how many times has David Ortiz been ejected in his career? If my math is correct at the time of writing this, Ortiz has been ejected 13 times in his Major League career. Do you know how many times Jeter and Rivera were ejected combined? Zero.
The attitude that Ortiz displays is nothing short of childish when things don't go his way. In his final season, we all remember the tirade that he put on at Yankee Stadium when Ron Kulpa ejected him over balls and strikes. Further, we all remember the tirade that earned his a suspension when Tim Timmons ejected him at Camden Yards, which included the destruction of a telephone in the dugout. Could someone please show the class where that behavior exists with Jeter or Rivera?
The point is that David Ortiz is the equivalent of Alex Rodriguez, not Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera. Ortiz has accomplished a great many feats on the diamond. He has brought championships to the city of Boston after being "cursed" for so long. He will always be remembered as a player who was a constant threat and struck fear into the hearts of pitchers who didn't have pinpoint control. But to say he deserves the same honor as Jeter or Rivera is more of a slap in the face to those two and to the intelligence of those who see Ortiz for what he is.
One final disclaimer: although Ortiz doesn't equate to deserving the honors of Jeter or Rivera, by no means does this mean that fans should treat him poorly or inappropriately. If you feel he doesn't deserve the honors he receives, simply don't watch. Go to the bathroom. Get a drink or some food. Don't boo him or moon him. He's still a human being and deserves respect for that. Although he may not be the epitome of good sportsmanship, that doesn't mean that you should fall into the same trap. You can be the difference here.
A recent conversation with an umpire colleague of mine revealed a story worthy of further dissection regarding poor sportsmanship. However, before we divulge into that story, there's a story within the story that is worthy of discussion.
Have you ever been in a situation filled with pressure to succeed? How about a situation where your decisions ultimately determine the success and failure of other people? And have any of these decisions been subconsciously influenced (or at least attempted at) by a large number of screaming people?
What I just described is the setting that sports officials face on a somewhat regular basis. It frequently ranges in intensity depending on so many factors, including sport, level, and importance, to name a few. But the general setting is the same across the board.
Imagine if one of the teams participating in a game is jockeying for calls to go their way. The players and coaches are constantly complaining, and the fans (who are probably somewhat clueless, but just go along with the norm) are not helping. How would you feel if you had to make calls in a split second (such as calling balls and strikes) knowing that any call you make, right or wrong, could draw the disapproval of a large number of people?
If you think the answer is to just "block it out," you're not human.
A lot of players and coaches (and even fans, to a degree) think that jockeying an official is the best way to influence calls to go their way during the course of a game. What they don't realize, however, is that jockeying does nothing more than make the official lose focus on what really matters: his job, which is to officiate the game.
As a disclaimer, I'm not saying that an athletic competition or the job done officiating said game is of the utmost importance in the grand context in life. But when you narrow the focus down to just the game, the job the official does to properly officiate the game is something that the official takes quite seriously.
Jockeying only distracts officials, causing their focus to leave the game and instead be divided between multiple parties, which could clearly influence whether or not the official gives his full attention to making the right calls. It may only appear to work because the calls made could be in favor of the jockeying team, even though they may be wrong.
In fact, many officials who have experience with certain teams or individuals known for this type of behavior will discuss this with their fellow officials prior to each contest in order to properly prepare and develop a game plan to make sure focus remains on the game. Experienced officials do the same thing prior to games of major importance, even if the teams aren't known for this poor behavior; it's surprising how a big game can bring the worst out of even the nicest people.
Some of these game plans that officials develop can be as simple as being aware of the jockeying from the first comment. If such a comment is heard, officials may immediately warn a team to stop it before it gets any worse. It's the ultimate win-win for the official: either the situation ends, or repeat offenders are usually justifiably ejected, which also ends the situation.
But is that enough? Sometimes, even the threat of jockeying is enough to divert focus from an official. If an official has to be prepared for the potential for jockeying, isn't that an act of removing focus from officiating the game? Shouldn't an official go into a game without having to worry about jockeying? That would be the most logical scenario with the hope of getting the best effort out of an official.
If you're a coach who constantly barks at officials, it may not even be enough to just stop! Word gets around quickly in the sports world. If you wonder why officials make mistakes in your games, perhaps it's because those officials were told to be on the lookout for your poor behavior. So your actions in a previous game are now coming back to bite you in a later game. It is the most ironic form of karma.
So the next time you're in the middle of a big game, give the official the benefit of the doubt. Your complaints over judgment calls that can't be changed are not going to make it better, nor affect the outcome. In fact, all it does it make it worse. Let the official keep his focus between the lines.
As part of the process of moving to our new blog home, you'll be able to see some of the major posts written at our last home. For future reference, these posts will be located in the "Posts From Previous Blog" category.
These posts will contain a variety of topics under the subcategories of both sports and sportsmanship. They were written during the last half of the 2016 calendar year. Some of the posts may not have migrated with us due to the nature of the content no longer being applicable (such as suggesting some of the moves the Yankees should have made during an offseason, none of which they actually did).
We hope to be up and blogging regularly as soon as 2017 begins. Look for new posts every Wednesday at 12pm ET!
With the arrival of September baseball comes the annual discussion about roster expansion in baseball. Hooray.
If you're not familiar with the roster rules in baseball, here's a quick crash course to catch you up on what we'll be discussing.
Baseball teams have two rosters: the active 25-man roster (the players available to play at each game) and the expanded 40-man roster (which includes the 25-man roster as well as 15 minor league players or players on the 7-day and 15-day disabled list, as well as any player who might be on temporary leave for things such as paternity or bereavement). Other than the obvious reason that a player would be added to the roster (which is that they are good and should be playing in the big leagues), the major reason a player is added to the 40-man roster prior to their arrival to the big leagues is to protect that player from the Rule 5 draft, which is an annual draft that occurs during the Winter Meetings. That draft is specifically for players who, for the most part, have five or more years of service time in the minor leagues with a team without being added to the 40-man roster. It's a way to make sure that players are not blocked from the big leagues due to the stockpiling of prospects, etc. If a player is not added to the 40-man roster prior to this draft, he is eligible to be drafted by another team. Alternatively, once a player is added to the 40-man roster, he has three years to stick with the big league club before being released or exposed to other clubs picking him up in some fashion. I'm not doing it complete justice here, but you get the idea.
During the course of the season, players are obviously added and removed from both the 25-man and 40-man roster for various reasons. If a player on the 25-man roster gets hurt and placed on the disabled list, a player on the 40-man roster who is not on the 25-man roster can be called up to take his place. If a player on the 25-man roster just isn't performing and is eligible to be sent to the minors (which is a different discussion altogether), that player can be optioned to the minors while remaining on the 40-man roster, and another player can replace him. It's a deeply specific and fascinating set of rules which makes for a great chess match if your OCD finds interest in this, like mine. But if you just care about the games, then you probably don't really care.
Now, here's where it gets crazy.
On September 1st of each baseball season, the active roster of 25 players is expanded to 40 players. Essentially, every team is allowed to activate every player on the 40-man roster and use all 40 in a game. This is completely different from the first five months of the baseball season where only 25 players could be used each game.
The biggest question that gets asked here by most people: why?
Well, traditionally, the minor league baseball season ends around Labor Day. If a minor league team is in the playoffs, their season may continue, but the majority of teams are done around the beginning of September. This is a way to keep the top prospects playing while also rewarding them for their body of work. It can also serve as a way to help get the feet wet of those players. One of the biggest stories of that is Derek Jeter in 1995. Jeter was recalled to the big club in the Bronx in 1995 and was actually not on the active roster during the playoffs that year, but he remained with the club throughout their brief postseason run. It is believed that this experience helped form Jeter into the leader that he became.
There are plenty of reasons why this practice is not admired by those it affects. First, think about the date of September 1st. Just like the trade deadline (July 31), these are arbitrary dates that do not actually have a correlation to the schedule of each team. As such, each of the 30 major league clubs could have a different number of games remaining after each deadline passes. Why is it fair that one team can use the expanded roster for 30 games, but another can only use it for 27?
Managers don't like it because of the change in strategies and philosophies that must occur after five months. Many managers spend countless hours debating various match-ups that they prefer in games. They will look at their opponent's roster and compare their hitters with the manager's bullpen to see which match-ups are favorable and how they will deploy their relievers or pinch-hitters. When the rosters expand, the amount of work that goes into that process multiplies by a number that can barely be counted by the human brain.
With the addition of players comes an addition in time of game. If a manager has 15 relief pitchers at his disposal, he will mix and match his relievers late in the game at a rate that will drive the average viewer crazy. Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants is already notorious for this when the rosters aren't expanded, so imagine what his games in September are like. (In fact, with so many conversations about pace of play happening with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire, many are suggesting that the typical rule of a pitcher being required to face at least one batter should be changed to requiring a pitcher to face two batters.)
An interesting counterargument, however, is that of the reality of the 25-man roster. If you examine the standard 25-man roster for an American League team, it is exceptionally rare that the four starting pitchers not pitching on any given day will find their way into the game, thereby really only giving the manager 21 players on any given day. Further, with the care taken to protect pitchers' arms, many managers will determine which relievers are not available on certain days so as to force them to rest. For example, Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees refuses to use a reliever for three consecutive days unless it becomes absolutely necessary; if he breaks his rule, under no circumstances will that reliever pitch a fourth consecutive day. In fact, it usually earns that reliever at least two days off.
So with that information, one has to ask if the 25-man roster actually is a 25-man roster! Sure, 25 players may be active and eligible to play, but never will all of those players actually be used in one game.
Many managers have actually rallied around an idea suggested by Buck Showalter, manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Showalter suggested that, although the 40-man roster becomes available in September, a manager must declare which 25 players are eligible for any given day, limiting the moves a manager can actually make. Others have taken this a step further, suggesting the same idea be adopted, but with the active roster increased to a number such as 28 active players on a given day, which may keep the spirit of the original rule intact.
The problem with these suggestions is that issues of service time and other labor related issues must be determined, and the owners and general managers are not going to be happy if a player is gaining service time without actually playing. An increase in service time means an increase in benefits to that player, such as a greater salary, hitting arbitration and free agency quicker, etc. So team executives want to see their players actually play while they accrue service time so their money is being spent for at least something.
One broad dissent of the complaints which endorses the system as it stands now discusses how, with the increased attention given to the arms of pitchers, these rules are beneficial to their arms and protects them from overuse and/or abuse. The workload suddenly becomes spread out over a greater number of pitchers in the final month when player are starting to really get tired. This doesn't necessarily excuse the fact that a greater discussion needs to be had about the epidemic of arm problems and Tommy John surgeries, but at least it is forward thinking in being conservative and respectful of the arms of pitchers.
Other than umpires having to write more things on their lineup cards, it has to be asked: is this issue really that big of a concern compared to the greater issues in this and many sports?
In the interest in trying to find a solution, however, rather than just telling people to suck it up, I present yet another suggestion as to how we might be able to remedy this "problem."
September 1st suddenly has no meaning in this solution. Instead, the solution is determined based on a combination of two things: if you are still mathematically alive in a playoff race, and if you are playing a team that is also mathematically alive.
If two teams are playing each other and they are both mathematically alive in the hunt for a playoff spot, then the rules don't change. Their 25-man roster rules that have been used in the first five months of the season remain.
If two teams are playing each other and neither are mathematically alive in the hunt for a playoff spot, then the current post-September 1st rules apply, in that they can activate their entire 40-man roster for those games.
If a team that is mathematically alive is playing a team that is not mathematically alive, both teams must utilize their 25-man rosters, but they can designate which 25 players are active on those given days. The only restriction is that if a player was the starting pitcher for that team in one of the last four games, he must be on the 25-man active roster or placed on the disabled list. This rule forces teams to treat their 25-man rosters like they would during the first five months of the year. Further, on these days, the players who are not active still receive service time if their team is eliminated from postseason contention.
Would this idea ever be considered or debated? Probably not. In this business, there are too many detractors to make these types of things actually work. But in a perfect world, maybe this is the solution we need.
In my years as an adult (which I still cannot believe I qualify), there are too many times when I wish I could get back on the baseball field on a regular basis and just play, whether it be an actual game or just a gentle scrimmage with friends.
In fairness, I thankfully have the ability to still do that with the advent of the adult league. But that only happens once per week between April and August, and if it rains on Sunday, you have to wait another week...which is what your body tells you to do even if you do play so it can recover!
On the other hand, I am blessed with the ability to officiate baseball games on a much more frequent basis between those months, ranging from the youngest of kids up through high school varsity (and formerly college club baseball). So I get to see the game from all angles and perspectives, complete with the enjoyment and camaraderie of being with a bunch of guys who share similar interests.
Each year, however, as we head into the late stages of summer, the television is flooded with amateur sporting events that make me pause and wonder why ESPN (or a related network) has spent the time, energy, and money to broadcast and cover such a game. The obvious answer is supply and demand mixed with massive amounts of revenue, but the deeper philosophical answer remains at large.
In the past few years, I've noticed that the level of amateur baseball televised has ranged to include college baseball, American Legion baseball, the Little League World Series, and the Cal Ripken World Series, to name a few. Although the MLB Network was formerly responsible for airing the Cal Ripken World Series, it is usually ESPN responsible for airing the other events.
In fact, you can extrapolate this argument and begin to encompass other sports at other levels. Although the argument over collegiate sports (specifically football and basketball) would be too large to encompass in scope of this discussion, you can at least cite a (now online only) network such as MSG Varsity, which televises high school sports throughout the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut region. In short, the influx of amateur sports available to viewers has increased in size at an almost proportional rate to the increase in available channels on the average cable television lineup.
Perhaps this is all just part of the scheme of the dollar. Network executives realize that they can attract more and more subscribers if they offer networks dedicated to the niche market of amateur sports. It's not a far-fetched idea when you consider the demand for college football and basketball.
Further, networks dedicated to these sports, whether professional or amateur, are constantly seeking programming to keep their network fresh and current. Professional sports networks probably don't face this issue unless their sport is out of season; the MLB Network offers constant coverage of baseball from the time Spring Training rolls around until the World Series is fully wrapped up. But what is the network supposed to televise between November and February? Well, if some interesting amateur baseball is happening somewhere in the world, it will find its way to the network to help feed the thirst for baseball during the cold winter months. Hell, I'm glued to the network during the winters when MLB sends a team of All-Stars to the Far East to play their countrymen.
And if that's the plight of a professional sports network, what is the conundrum of something like the Big Ten Network?
The long and the short of it is that we have a flooded market for sports entertainment. Whereas networks such as ESPN, MLB Network, and all other networks dedicated to professional sports are a good thing, the expansion to what we have now is practically ridiculous. No better commentary on the subject has been written than the script for the movie "Dodgeball," featuring the prominent network ESPN 8: THE OCHO!
So where does this leave us regarding amateur sports programming? We're left with every game of tournaments such as the Little League World Series being televised on the ESPN family of networks. And I'm not so sure that's a good thing.
First, let's agree that the Little League World Series itself isn't the problem. It is the national attention it receives thanks to the broadcast coverage that leaves me somewhat perplexed as to the psychological effects it can have on impressionable prepubescent boys...well, that and the fact that I really have no need to know that the favorite television show of the third baseman for Team Mexico is "Drake and Josh."
Little League in itself has its fair share of issues. For every good step it has taken, there is an equal detraction that occurs. For every new rule it implements regarding pitch count or Special Pinch Runners, there is an adult looking for ways to exploit their kids around those rules.
The same theory exists in the discussion about televising these games. By televising these games, then the loved ones of these kids who cannot travel to Williamsport, PA, can still watch their relative play baseball. The grandparents who cannot leave their home can still watch their grandson have some fun in the sun. Yet, now 12-year-old kids have to deal with the fact that they are on national television.
Maybe some kids can handle the attention. Maybe it's not fair to paint every kid with the same brush. But our society has constantly dealt with the issue of our youth wanting to grow up too fast, and we are on the crux of a significant change where youth ends earlier and earlier in a child's life.
Child beauty pageants and other exploits parents chase for their children have become so much the norm for our youth that kids don't necessarily have the chance to be a kid. (Wasn't that the motto of Chuck E. Cheese's?) Parents who have their own psychological issues (and who refuse to acknowledge them or work through them with the help of medical professionals) engage in the practice of living vicariously through their offspring, which is completely destructive to the proper development of children.
How often do kids dress in a manner that makes them think they look more "grown up," only to the dismay of their parents? As if this wasn't common enough, the trend of young girls who dress in provocative ways while under the age of thirteen is on the rise, especially when it is endorsed by the mother!
Back in the realm of sports, the opportunity for 12-year-old boys to be on national television can also lead to the opportunity to act like their big-league heroes, thinking that their poor behavior is acceptable, especially when being broadcast to the world. Perhaps Little League does what it can to curb this behavior, but there is nothing more ironic than watching a 12-year-old boy argue a call one minute, only to see him in tears the next when his team has been eliminated from the competition.
So we have to ask: why do we promote this practice as a society? Just to sell some advertising? Look, not for nothing, but I really don't need ESPN Baseball Tonight host Karl Ravech and former MLB players like Dallas Braden doing play-by-play and color analysis for a bunch of kids who shouldn't be throwing a curve ball this early in their anatomical development.
This is why I have to give credit to organizations like Babe Ruth League. Babe Ruth's younger division (for kids 12-years-old and younger) is now named Cal Ripken Baseball. (When I played in it, it was known as Bambino Baseball.) The Cal Ripken World Series is held at the Cal Ripken Baseball Complex in Aberdeen, MD, and only the championship game for the 12-year-old World Series was streamed live online this year. Ultimately, whether it be due to a lack of sponsors and revenue, or due to common sense, some people are beginning to realize that, with the advent of technology, we can make these games accessible to those who otherwise would not be able to see them, but not in a way that over-saturates the market. The grandparents can still see their grandson play without having to dump layers of anxiety and pressure on the kids.
It also makes you wonder if there is a connection between the demand for these youth sports and the demand for college athletics. Our society has a deep (and strange) demand for college football and basketball, so it's only fair to ask if there are any similarities between that demand and the viewership of events such as the Little League World Series. What fuels our praise of college sports? And what makes us determine which amateur sports are worth our attention?
The final question may lie on a path that gets debated furiously on local levels. Why do we put so much importance on these "travel teams" instead of the in-house teams that constitute our local leagues? Further, and possibly more importantly, why do the attitudes and expectations change so vigorously once we transition to the "travel level?" The Little League World Series is comprised of these exclusive teams that have to make decisions on which kids play and which kids aren't good enough to join the team. The focus is not on making sure that the kids have a good time and experience, but rather that the kids are put in the best position to win and eliminate any chance of failure. That might be a good attitude to have at a professional level (or even at a seriously competitive amateur level such as college), but when you're dealing with 12-year-old boys, do any of them really have a clue what's important in life? Do any of them know what their career path might be? Do any of them realize that there is a finite nature to life that limits them in everything they do?
Look, there are no definitive answers in this argument. We can make generalizations and propose ideas that are as gray as The Strike Zone (oh I did it again!). But what is important is that we, as a society, take a moment to realize that these are kids. If you, as an adult, don't get much enjoyment out of watching a children's movie starring the exploited stars of the Disney Channel, then why are you watching the Little League World Series?
Okay, here are a list of names. Tell me what they all have in common. Ready? Here it is:
J.A. Happ. Russell Martin. Josh Donaldson. Troy Tulowitzki. Jose Bautista. Kevin Pillar. Justin Smoak. Edwin Encarnacion. John Gibbons. Buck Martinez.
Did you figure it out? If not, here's the answer:
They're all crybabies.
On Monday night in Toronto, the Blue Jays and the Yankees got into two bench-clearing incidents (at least one of which involved a true physical altercation). The story goes like this. In the first inning, Yankees pitcher Luis Severino clipped the bottom of the elbow guard that Josh Donaldson wears on his left elbow, allowing Donaldson to take first base. In the second inning, when Chase Headley came up to bat, J.A. Happ threw his first pitch behind Headley, causing some alarm by the Yankees. On the next pitch, Happ hit Headley in the leg. This caused home plate umpire Todd Tichenor to issue warnings to both teams, but it did not stop both teams from coming onto the field looking for a fight. Joe Girardi argued that Happ should have been ejected, which prompted Girardi to be ejected instead.
In the bottom half of the same inning, Severino threw the first pitch to Justin Smoak behind Smoak, much in the same way Happ threw behind Headley. The second pitch similarly hit Smoak in the leg, earning Severino the automatic ejection (along with bench coach and acting manager Rob Thompson) and also causing both benches and bullpens to empty and for a fight to erupt. Further, pitching coach Larry Rothschild was also ejected.
Summary: four Yankees ejected (one player), two fights, and a few injuries from the fight.
What makes this incident incredibly frustrating is that, prior to this series starting, Donaldson apparently had a meeting with his team and took exception to the fact that he (along with many of his teammates) were either being brushed back off the plate with inside pitches or were being hit with pitches. Ergo, if anybody gets hit, retaliation is necessary.
What Donaldson didn't account for was that, in all the games the Blue Jays played against the Yankees this year (this was the 19th out of 19 meetings), he had been hit only once in those games. So a perceived frustration was to be taken out on the Yankees alone.
The general initial analysis of this dust up is that the Blue Jays, as they are constituted now, play the role of the victim like they're being paid by second. You can pick any particular starting point in the soap opera as the beginning of the timeline, but that doesn't change the fact that the culture brewing in the Toronto clubhouse is that of narcissism that falls nothing short of insanity.
We all have a friend who complains or mopes or gives up or stops caring or argues too much over ridiculous things all when things don't go his or her way. The Toronto Blue Jays are that friend in the social circle of Major League Baseball. We're all well versed on Jose Bautista's unsportsmanlike bat flip in the 2015 playoffs and the feud it began between the Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers. You'll also see a few other teams and enemies the Blue Jays have made over the years (they're not fans of Yordano Ventura of the Kansas City Royals, but then again, he has had more fights than Mike Tyson). But the one that gets me every time is when a member of the Blue Jays gets upset with an umpire over balls and strikes.
Although I'm sure there are many umpires who dread seeing Toronto, the one umpire who can't catch a break is Vic Carapazza. Vic has had two games in the past year that have gone extra innings while behind the plate and in Toronto, and both of which have had numerous ejections of Blue Jays. One game was in the 2015 ALDS against the Texas Rangers, and the other was in July 2016 against the Cleveland Indians.
In fairness, Carapazza may seem rough on the surface as an umpire. He calls his strikes hard and quick, as if he's trying to grab as many as he can or trick himself into not being able to think about the pitch; so many umpires are taught not to call pitches too quickly because they will miss them, which is why some of the longer tenured umpires (and better umpires) take a moment after the pitch to signal and/or call the pitch. When you watch him call a game with the naked eye (which is already tough because the camera is not directly projecting the strike zone), you may think he's inconsistent, which is only amplified by the Blue Jays' reactions.
But if you look at the plot of the pitches Carapazza had to call in those games in question, they're actually not as bad as you think. Are they somewhat inconsistent? Yes. When comparing those plots to the plots of other longer-tenured umpires, there are definitely a chunk of pitches that stand out as improperly officiated. But consider the fact that both of those games went so long into extra innings that it was almost the equivalent of Carapazza calling two games each day without a break. If a good umpire is expected to properly officiate greater than 90% of the pitches he calls, then Carapazza is probably still in the clear, especially based on fatigue.
The point here is that, for an umpire being as consistent as possible before fatigue sets in, the Blue Jays would not make an adjustment to Carapazza's strike zone in those games, causing arguments which eventually led to ejections. Russell Martin is the biggest offender because he catches and sees more of Carapazza than anyone else. If he thinks Carapazza missed a pitch, he lets Vic know, almost in an embarrassing and demeaning way. It's not that difficult to make an adjustment to the umpire's strike zone, yet the Blue Jays refuse.
In the case of Monday night's incident, Josh Donaldson refused to consider the fact that a rookie pitcher who didn't have his best control that night may have accidentally nipped the bottom of his elbow guard. Josh Donaldson may have also refused to consider the fact that he, like many of his teammates, crowds the plate so much that every scouting report in the world says to pitch him inside. You would think that a Major League Baseball player would understand that scouting reports spread like wildfires. It's the equivalent of getting angry when your opponent in chess makes a legal move you didn't see coming, then you getting upset and blaming your opponent for your error.
The Blue Jays' lack of intelligence doesn't stop there. Their coaching staff argues just as much as the players do. John Gibbons actually has made such a mockery of himself that he has come back out onto the field not once, but twice for a fight after he had already been ejected. As if it wasn't bad enough that he had done it once (when the Blue Jays and Royals fought last year in the regular season), he did it a second time less than a year later during the infamous game between the Blue Jays and the Rangers where Rougned Odor famously punched Jose Bautista. The fact that Gibbons has not been given a huge penalty from MLB for repeated violations of such an offense is actually more of an indictment on MLB than anything else.
One that's sure to upset patriots is the lack of respect the Blue Jays have for America. On Canada Day this year (which happened to be the same day as Carapazza's long game this year), the Blue Jays and the Indians both wore Canadian flags on their uniforms as a sign of respect. However, a few days later on July 4, the Blue Jays did not return the favor, instead continuing to wear only Canadian flags. And can you imagine what happened on September 11? Yep...same thing.
Finally, as we return to Monday night, consider the fact that the Blue Jays are on the precipice of the playoffs this season. Their chances of winning the AL East are slim to none, so if they make the playoffs, they will have to play the one-game Wild Card game. As of writing this, there less than a week before that game. And yet, in the fight on Monday, both Joaquin Benoit and Devon Travis both injured themselves to the point of probably not being able to participate in the playoffs. Apparently, defending your team's honor in ridiculousness is more important than a championship, which your team hasn't won since 1993.
Good job, guys.
Think about it, Blue Jays. It's not about you. It's not always the fault of someone else. I thought Canada was supposed to be full of nice people...
How often do we say, "If I knew then what I know now..." and then follow it up with some deeply philosophical thought that shows that we were once shortsighted.
We might say it about anything in life, be it topics dealing with school, relationships, financial decisions, or anything else. It reminds us to always seek wisdom as we progress through life so that the decisions we make are better and well informed in the future. It also reminds us to cherish what we have now, for those blessings could be gone at any moment.
Along similar lines, how often do you kick yourself for not becoming involved in something sooner? How often do we think we should have taken interest in something before it got to this point, whatever that point may be? Hopefully, when we get frustrated over that, we're dealing with something a little less trivial than a life altering situation.
For me, many of these moments have occurred in the wake of non-serial television events. I say non-serial because I can easily go back and watch a television series that has ended thanks to the market flooding of series/seasons on DVD or on some streaming service. If I ever decide I need to go back and watch the entire series of "Breaking Bad," for example, I can easily do that.
An example of a non-serial television event where I should have started earlier might be Craig Ferguson while he hosted The Late Late Show on CBS. It was only due to the urging of a dear friend of mine that I finally started to tune in, and it took a dancing pantomime horse known as Secretariat for me to realize I had to watch this show. That was at the beginning of 2011; Ferguson decided to end his run as host at the end of 2015. I felt like an idiot for not watching since his debut ten years earlier.
You might have a connection with a certain broadcaster that fits this bill. It could be a news anchor you trust or a weatherman you enjoy. It could be a radio personality on sports talk radio. (I kicked myself for only starting to listen to Mike & the Mad Dog on WFAN around late 2007, only to have them break up in 2008.) Or it could be a favorite place that you hold sacred, whether it be the old Yankee Stadium or your favorite restaurant or bar that might now be closed for good.
If you're reading this, though, chances are that you have a sportscaster in mind that fits this bill. As much as I am ridiculed for it, I tear up when it's both the first time and last time I will hear John Sterling's voice each season, as his voice and predictive scripts and mannerisms remind me that baseball, specifically New York Yankees baseball, is either right around the corner or leaving me for a cold, dark, slow winter.
Being a lifelong Yankees fan, I've heard Sterling's voice for years; I began to listen religiously to him in approximately 2005, but I would obviously still listen at a less than religious pace before that too. I'll never forget his call when the Yankees won the 1998 World Series or when David Cone pitched his perfect game.
Where I kick myself is not adoring Vin Scully like he was the Eucharist.
I had heard of Scully before, but I obviously did not have access to his broadcasts for the longest time without the advent of technological advances to where they are now. I also was more concerned with my own budding baseball career and everything else in my life that I only had the time to focus on the Yankees and not another team. It wasn't until Joe Torre and Don Mattingly headed to Los Angeles that I began to pay the slightest attention to the west coast, and even then I didn't know I could listen to Scully's broadcasts.
Ever so slowly did I begin to realize there was more to baseball than just the Yankees, although my devout love for them remained. Thanks to the MLB At Bat app, I realized I could listen to game broadcasts on whichever feed I preferred. Then my new car came with Sirius XM radio that allowed me more access to games. When the MLB Network began to simulcast games, I'd catch any game I could if the Yanks weren't on. Finally, thanks to the incompetence of both Comcast and the YES Network, I could no longer watch the Yankees on YES, forcing me to purchase MLB.tv just to watch the Yankees. And thanks to the realization that certain Blu Ray players already had the application loaded on it, I could now watch every out-of-market game (which included the Yankees for me in my area of New Jersey) in high definition on my television.
In case you're wondering, the answer is yes...my social life slowed down. Thank God my girlfriend loves me (even though she's a Red Sox fan)!
I now had the opportunity to watch as many games as I could, and believe me when I tell you I took every opportunity I could to watch the Dodgers just so I could listen to Vin Scully this season.
How could I be so stupid to not appreciate this legendary voice until his 67th and final year of broadcasting Dodgers games?
For me, it subconsciously felt like par for the course. I got involved too late. Maybe that was a blessing because it allowed me to appreciate Vin even more. He was a preciously scarce resource for me, so I knew I had to be careful not to waste him.
Everything they say about Vin Scully is absolutely true, be it the descriptions of his on-air work or the stories behind the scenes. He's a man I've never met, and in just one short season, I felt like he was the grandfather I wanted to visit every day. He told stories that I wish I could have heard during every history lesson I had in school; hell, I just wish Vin Scully was my history teacher in every single grade! I would have listened to everything he said and possibly become some sort of historian!
His soothing voice was the warm security blanket I wanted in someone who I invited into my home. That's a title I've bestowed on people like John Sterling and Bob Barker, except that Scully took the cake.
I yearned for his descriptions and stories about the umpires. Broadcasters give descriptions about the players and coaches and provide color commentary on the game action. Scully did that and beyond, informing us about the careers and backgrounds of the men in black (or light blue). In fact, the relationship between Scully and the umpires garners a wave from the crew before every game, to which Scully always returns the gesture.
When some people use puns, the reaction is a groan from the crowd. When Scully used puns, I wanted to stand up and give him a slow clap. I'll never forget his story about Joe Torre in a doubleheader where he was the catcher in the first game and got banged up pretty bad. In game two of the doubleheader, Torre played third base. Scully went on to say that due to the rough first game and the position switch, you might be able to refer to Joe as "Chicken-Catcher Torre."
What makes me lose it for Vin, however, is his humble heart and his devotion to God. This is a man who is so thankful for his blessings that he made his honorary day about the fans, not about him.
You know who Vin Scully is? He is the equivalent of Bob Shepherd, the voice of Yankee Stadium. It was never about Bob; it was never about being flashy or shining the spotlight on him; it was about doing a job properly. That's Vin too.
Frequently when discussing the philosophy of role models, we mention two theories:
-We are bound to be let down by the majority of our role models because we put them up on a pedestal of perfection to which they simply cannot live up. Athletes and celebrities are usually the most guilty of this.
-If we were smart enough to realize who we should be picking as our role models, perhaps we would be smart enough to realize we may not need role models.
Vin Scully may be the asymptotic exception to these rules. If I had a child who told me his role model was Vin Scully, I would sleep very well.
Read this conversation and soak it in:
"Hey, my fault on that, uh..."
"My fault on that strike."
"No, you're good."
"Well, I just..."
"C'mon, you're good, bro."
"I don't like..."
"No, no worries. You're competing. I understand. Don't worry. You know what's best of it? You come back and you tell me that. That's how good of a guy you are. You kidding me? Thank you."
That conversation took place between Chicago Cubs All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo and home plate umpire Angel Hernandez.
In the top of the fifth inning, Rizzo took a pitch he was ball four for a strike. Rizzo had already dropped his bat and was heading to first when it was called a strike by Hernandez. In hindsight, it was a good for Rizzo: on the next pitch, he broke out of his slump and smacked a home run.
Prior to his next at-bat, as Rizzo was coming up, Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt came out to the mound, which gave Rizzo his opportunity to apologize to Hernandez for showing him up.
After the game, during a press conference, Rizzo was asked about it:
Q. The TV cameras picked up what people on social media are calling a cool moment of sportsmanship between you and Angel Hernandez. Can you just talk about that?
"Yeah, well, the umpires, all of the umpires they're out here at the highest level doing their best, and we're competing at our best and they're competing. So on a pitch that I disagreed with and to think it was a ball and then him call a strike, I don't like showing up the umpires. They're out here working their tails off 162 like we are. There is no home for them. They're on the road the entire season. So just to let him know that, hey, my fault there. I probably should have waited a little longer to not just assume it was a ball. That's just the way I am. They're working as hard as we're working, and it's just different perspectives."
Wow. I think I have finally found who I would support for President.
First and foremost, let's discuss how this is the epitome of good sportsmanship. Anthony Rizzo is one of baseball's youngest and most exciting stars. He acts with class and dignity while competing at the highest level. With this type of evidence, you could make the argument that he embodies the next Derek Jeter. To have the humility and awareness that the first thing he needs to do when he goes back to home plate is apologize to Hernandez shows that he cares more about respect for his fellow man than about winning, which is not an easy thing to do, especially when you're in the middle of a big slump in the National League Championship Series...and you play for the Chicago Cubs.
Angel Hernandez does what a good person and a good umpire does. Not only does he brush it off and make peace with Rizzo easily, but he diffuses the situation. An umpire's job (among all his many duties) is to keep situations from getting out of hand. Hernandez took the high road here and shared his compassion and empathy with Rizzo in way that established a bond between the two. That bond is something for which we should all strive, no matter our walk of life.
Consider this as a sidebar: in the past ten to fifteen years, Angel Hernandez has been labeled as one of the worst umpires in baseball for two reasons. First, his ability to calls balls and strikes has been sub-par in prior instances. (He called 95.9% of the pitches in Game 4 correctly, which is the highest score of any of the postseason games in which the Dodgers have played this year to this point.) Second, he was considered a hot-head and found himself in the middle of too many controversies over the course of his career.
However, Hernandez has improved significantly in his temperament, becoming a bit more relaxed and letting the game "come to him." Although Hernandez probably has to prove his improvement over a consistent period of time in order to erase the memories from the minds of fans who label him as the enemy, the fact that he would show such behavior with Rizzo in such a pressure-packed situation provides solid evidence that people (even umpires) can change. After all, umpires are asked to start perfect, then get better.
Overall, if you ever need to show a kid an example of good sportsmanship, show him this clip. And I dare you not to get a little welling of tears in your eyes every time you watch it.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.